Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Abandonment of Suffering

Abandon suffering. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? An easy do? No. Ninety-nine percent of our news is about people causing suffering for themselves, for others, for animals, for the planet… Why is there so much suffering in the world? And why can’t we seem to stop it?
The abandonment of suffering is the subject of the Buddha’s second noble truth “This noble truth of the arising of suffering is that it be abandoned.”  And of himself, he states “The arising of suffering has been abandoned.” The whole of Buddhism is a mind-training method precisely in service of this goal. It takes a lot of effort and a long time.
Why would we cling to suffering? Why would we persist in hurting ourselves and others? The answer is a bit ironic: suffering insures our self-identity. This is our most prized possession. What person willing lets this go? And yet a false self-identity is the root of the insanity of all inhumanity. Both Buddhism and A Couse in Miracles make it very clear that this is the case. In the Samyutta Nikaya the Buddha gives an analogy of a dog tied by a leash to a stake being like the mind of a person whose self-identity is tied to form, feelings, perception, fabrications, consciousness of sensations: “He keep running around and circling around that very form…that very feeling…that very perception…those very fabrications…not set loose from consciousness. He is not set loose from birth, aging and death; from sorrows, lamentation, pains, distresses and despair. He is not set loose from suffering and stress.”
Another thing that the Buddha abandoned was teaching theology or cosmology. It was his considered opinion, that these subjects are simply a waste of time and effort when you are suffering, not only that, they lead to pointless arguments which entail more suffering. There were great theological debates raging in Buddha’s time and he simply refused to join in. He caught some flak for that. Yet this was the brilliance of his teaching: he taught a method for the cessation of suffering and only that. Everything else, he reasoned, each one understands upon the cessation of suffering. In fact the cessation of the arising of suffering is a necessary condition of the mind for the attainment of such knowledge, before that its mere speculation which leads to misunderstandings.

There does come a point where a person weighs the evidence, clearly perceived and chooses to abandon suffering and with it all formerly cherished self-identifications are let go. This is the end of specialness, the end of ownership, the end of me-and-mine, the end of story. With the abandonment of suffering, comes a state of mind of pure harmlessness and a state of inter-being. There arises a mind that can say, like Jesus, “What you do for the least of these, you do for me.” This is because all interests are seen as shared interests. The “me” is no more special than the “you”. And with the abandonment of suffering comes a state of mind which can say “All things are well and all manner of things are well” (Julian of Norwich) because in such a mind there exists a profound state of well-being.

How Do You Know?

We as a culture believe in many invisible things. Among them are wind, electricity, gravity and love. For these things the word “belief” is perhaps not quite correct because we say that these things exist. Though invisible all of these things are known through their effects. In the case of wind, electricity and gravity these effects are measurable. No one has yet found a way to measure love but I doubt there are few, if any, scientists who have not felt the effects of love in their lives. Thus they would have to concur that love exists.
Thus invisibility does not preclude existence or even our ability to believe in something. Many people now-a- days seem to find invisibility a stumbling block to a belief in God. I hope I have shown that this need not be a problem when considering the existence of God. Like wind, electricity and gravity God is also know by effects and the qualities of those effects. The New Testament actually gives a definition of God. It is in 1John 4:8 “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” By this definition even atheists who know love, know God. There may be many people who reject this definition of God, and that is fine but as there are so few definitions of God out there I think it should be considered carefully. It is very possible that most religious doubts and arguments stem from differing concepts of what God is, yet who is stepping up to define what they mean when they say “God”?
Jesus used the word “Abba” (Father) when speaking of God. Jesus was a master of metaphor and analogy; clearly he was not referring to a biological father but to his Creator. A father is a creator to the child and likewise extends love and protection to his children, in most human cases. It was these qualities, creator, one who loves and protects, that Jesus was referring to when he said the word “Father”. What love is, what God is, is beyond the capacity of words to capture. Words can only be used as pointers toward an experience of love, of God. That is why Jesus used metaphors and analogies.
The people Jesus ministered to were like himself, ordinary people doubly oppressed by a foreign occupation and by a top heavy, spiritually bankrupt religious organization. Jesus met these people where they were. He talked to fishermen, housewives, farmers, herdsmen and made up stories using their activities to teach them how to reach God, this Father of his. He saw their spiritual poverty even though they might be complying with all the rules of their religion. He met them at the level of their spiritual poverty and at the level of their occupations and said “See, you can do this. It’s like sowing a seed or making bread…” This was the brilliance of Jesus’ teaching style. He used ordinary words and ordinary situations not only to point at something that is beyond words but to show the way to reach it.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Nature of the Mind

The mind has two characteristics, that of abiding in awareness of itself and that of projection, or creation. The mind ceaselessly projects the creation of thoughts, thoughts about the past and future and thoughts about sense impressions.

When the mind projects itself into a world of form suffering necessarily arises because the mind has separated from itself. This is the origin of loneliness, the sense that something is missing. This leads to the seeking of fulfillment in sense objects. This is the tragedy of ignorance wherein the mind has forgotten it separated from itself. Pitifully it seeks fulfillment in its own creations, the objects of its own separation which only distract it from returning to itself. This search leads to everything from rampant consumerism to art, music and poetry, to science and the study of the phenomenal universe, and to all religions.

As if to compound the error the mind, having lost track of its true identity in itself, seeks a self-identity with the objects of its creation. To claim a self-identity with one or more of the minds creations causes suffering indeed. The mind’s creations live only by feeding upon themselves, thus they are in constant fluctuation so one’s self-identity is always threatened. Think about the life of a tree from seed to sapling to fruit bearing mature tree to firewood to ashes and smoke, or to a pile of rotten wood chewed on by beetles. In all it is simply a morphing of forms, as is the case with our own bodies, the sense objects we most strongly identify with. From birth to aging to sickness and death our body simply morphs until its component parts are recycled in the flow of changing forms we call life. This is not really Life. It is merely a procession of deaths. This is what Jesus meant when he said “Let the dead bury the dead.” He used this shocking statement when speaking to a man who was stuck in this procession of deaths and could not step outside of it to see his true identity in the deathless.

True Life is the nature of the mind when it abides in itself. This Life neither changes nor ceases. It is the constant source of all that was created and all that never was created and all that will be created. Quite simply the end of suffering is a shift in identification from that which changes, that which dies, to that which never changes, the unborn, the eternally constant that resides in us all, that some call God.

Working With the Mind

There are two commonly held beliefs that limit our ability to change our minds. Unfortunately these two beliefs are held by many practitioners of psychotherapy and thus they appear to be sanctified by that profession. These two beliefs are:
1.      You are a victim of your conditioning, i.e. someone else is to blame for how you feel.
2.      Telling your story or analyzing the circumstances that caused suffering will heal it.
 These are simply untrue. Bringing the past into the present is simply a way of reliving it. Sometimes it is necessary to tell your story when the past is incessantly pushing its way into the present. A witness can be helpful the way a relief valve is helpful for the build-up of steam pressure. However until the heat source is turned off steam pressure continues to build up and need release. In the case of emotional pressure the heat source is the belief you are a victim. The moment you take responsibility for how you feel you are no longer “victimizing” yourself. It doesn’t change what happened in the past. What it does do is open up the present as a gift for you to use as you wish, instead of mindlessly playing old tapes of the past in it.

In working with the mind belief is everything. Belief empowers thoughts. It keeps them going.  Without belief a thought system will grind to a halt like a car running out of gas. Telling your story can have the effect of reinforcing your belief in it. It is much more fruitful to find your current attachments to the suffering. These exist in the present and must be undone in the present.

All we have to work with is our own minds. No one else can enter our minds and clean them up for us. Perhaps a good way of viewing it is not to wonder who messed up our minds. Just decide it doesn’t matter. There is a clean-up to be done and we’re going to do it. I remember the time my apartment was broken into by a thief. I came home to find drawers turned upside down and stuff all over the place. At the time there was a sense of violation that someone had been into my stuff and taken my grandmothers jewelry. But that was because I was attached to my stuff. I identified with it. Now 40 years later where is all that stuff the thief messed up? Gone. Gone who knows where. And so what? It is no longer relevant to my current life at all. When I faced having to clean up my apartment I didn’t want the thief there to do the work of putting things away. He was clearly untrustworthy so why would I want him in my apartment again? I wanted to clean it up myself.

When someone steals your peace of mind it is equally foolish to want them to make it right for you, to want them to take back what they said or did, which is impossible because it happened, or for them to feel guilty for what they did. If you have tried this you know it doesn’t make you feel better. Chances are the one who has wronged you is still an unreliable character so why would you want them to fix your life for you? If your peace of mind is stolen only you can get it back. This is everyone’s challenge in the world.